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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • DFPI issues proposed rulemaking under CCFPL

    On November 17, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued an invitation for comments on proposed rulemaking under the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL). The CCFPL provides DFPI with the authority to require companies that provide financial products and services to California consumers to register with the agency. DFPI is also able to “require registrants to generate and provide records to facilitate oversight of registrants and detect risks to California consumers.” The draft rule proposes requiring registration for industries that engage in the following financial products and services: debt settlement, student debt relief, education financing, and wage-based advances. According to DFPI’s notice, with respect to education financing, the proposed rulemaking covers providers of any form of credit where the credit’s purpose is to fund postsecondary education. It also covers “credit regardless of whether the provider labels the credit a loan, retail installment contract, or income share agreement, and regardless of whether the credit recipient’s payment obligation is absolute, contingent, or fixed.” Additionally, DFPI notes that “[w]ith respect to education financing with income-based payments, including contracts sometimes referred to as income share agreements,” DFPI proposes “reporting requirements that in some cases diverge from the reporting requirements for education financing with fixed payments.”

    The proposed rulemaking provides definitions to implement the CCFPL registration regulations and addresses several registration provisions including the following:

    • Provides that a person must not engage in the business of offering or providing the designated products and services without first registering with the commissioner unless exempt. The DFPI’s notice stipulates that registering with the commissioner “does not constitute a determination that other laws, including other licensing laws under the commissioner’s jurisdiction, do not apply” and the proposed rulemaking further provides that “granting registration to an applicant does not constitute a determination that the applicant’s acts, practices, or business model complies with any law or regulation.”
    • Outlines registration requirements and designates NMLS to handle all applications, registrant filings, and fee payments on behalf of the commissioner. The proposed rulemaking lays out information that must be submitted and maintained as part of the registration application, as well as notices required by state law, and steps registrants must take when making changes to an application filing. An applicant’s failure to provide all or any part of the requested information may prevent approval, DFPI states.
    • Outlines requirements for registrants seeking to conduct business at a new branch office or at a new location for an existing branch. Requests must be filed with NMLS within 30 calendar days of the date a registrant engages in business at the new branch office or new location.
    • Addresses procedures related to annual assessments and pro rata payment requirements, as well as annual reporting requirements for registrants based on the products and services they provide.
    • Outlines procedures and requirements for rescinding a summary revocation order when a former registrant submits a written request for reinstatement to the commissioner.
    • Discusses procedures related to the effectiveness, surrender, and revocation of a registration. DFPI provides that a “registration issued under this subchapter is effective until it is revoked by the commissioner, is surrendered by the registrant, or becomes inoperative under subdivision (b) of Financial Code section 90009.5.”

    DFPI’s notice also seeks comments on proposals to streamline the registration process and improve transparency and clarification on matters related to, among other things: (i) the types of information that may be subject to public disclosure; (ii) annual reporting requirements not included in the proposed rulemaking; and (iii) certain registration requirements that may be applicable to DFPI licensees and licensees and registrants of other state agencies. In addition, DFPI seeks stakeholder feedback on the economic impact of the draft rules on businesses and consumers in California.

    Comments on the proposed rulemaking are due December 20.

    Licensing State Issues State Regulators DFPI CCFPL Consumer Finance Debt Settlement Student Lending Debt Relief Earned Wage Access NMLS

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  • FTC permanently bans payment processor from debt relief processing

    Federal Issues

    On November 8, the FTC announced the permanent ban of a payment processor from processing debt relief payments and ordered payment of $500,000 in consumer redress. According to the FTC’s complaint, the payment processor and its owner (collectively, “defendants”) allegedly processed roughly $31 million in consumer payments on behalf of a student loan debt relief operation charged by the FTC in 2019 for allegedly engaging in deceptive practices when marketing and selling their debt relief services. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC claimed the operators (i) charged borrowers illegal advance fees; (ii) falsely claimed they would service and pay down their student loans; and (iii) obtained borrowers’ credentials in order to change consumers’ contact information and prevent communications from loan servicers. The FTC alleged the defendants processed payments from tens of thousands of consumers even though they were aware of numerous issues with the scheme and had received complaints from consumers and banks. The FTC further alleged that the defendants continued to process payments until the FTC took enforcement action against the operation.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants are permanently prohibited from processing payments for debt relief services and student loan entities and are banned from processing payments for any merchant unless there is a signed, written contract. The defendants are also required to screen prospective high-risk clients to determine whether such clients are, or are likely to be, engaging in deceptive or unfair activities. In addition, the settlement imposes a $27.5 million judgment against the defendants, which is largely suspended following the payment of $500,000, due to the defendants’ inability to pay the full amount.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Payment Processors Debt Relief Fees Consumer Finance

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  • District Court approves non-party settlement in student debt-relief action

    Courts

    On October 20, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved a settlement with two non-parties in an action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney, alleging a student loan debt relief operation deceived thousands of student-loan borrowers and charged more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint asserted that the defendants violated the CFPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws. Amended complaints (see here and here) also added new defendants and included claims for avoidance of fraudulent transfers under the FDCPA and California’s Uniform Voidable Transactions Act, among other things. A stipulated final judgment and order was entered against the named defendant in July (covered by InfoBytes here), which required the payment of more than $35 million in redress to affected consumers, a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau, and $5,000 in civil money penalties to each of the three states. The court also previously entered final judgments against several of the defendants, as well as a default judgment and order against two other defendants (covered by InfoBytes hereherehere, and here). The most recent settlement resolves a dispute between a court-appointed receiver and the two non-parties. The settlement requires the non-parties to pay $675,000 to the receiver.

    Courts CFPB Enforcement State Attorney General State Issues CFPA UDAAP Telemarketing Sales Rule FDCPA Student Lending Debt Relief Consumer Finance Settlement

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  • District Court orders student loan debt-relief defendant to pay $20 million

    Courts

    On September 23, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a judgment in favor of the CFPB against an individual defendant in an action taken by the Bureau against a lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2020 claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products. However, the Bureau alleged that the defendants instead resold or provided the reports to numerous companies, including companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services, and violated both the TSR and CFPA by placing telemarketing sales calls and sending direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, while falsely representing that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and allow borrowers to change their servicer to the Department of Education. Settlements have already been reached with certain defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here).

    In August the court granted the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment against the individual defendant after determining that undisputed evidence showed that the individual defendant, among other things, “obtained and later used prescreened lists from [a consumer reporting agency] without a permissible purpose” in order to send direct mail solicitations from the businesses that he controlled to consumers on the lists as opposed to firm offers of credit or insurance. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) At the time, the court found that injunctive relief, restitution, and a civil money penalty were appropriate remedies. While the individual defendant objected to the proposed judgment, the court ultimately ordered that the Bureau is entitled to a judgment for monetary relief of over $19 million as redress for fees paid by affected consumers. This restitution is owed jointly and severally with the student loan debt relief company defendants in the amounts imposed in default judgments entered against each of them (covered by InfoBytes here). Additionally, the court determined that the individual defendant “recklessly” violated the CFPA, TSR, and FCRA, warranting a $20 million civil money penalty. The individual defendant is also permanently banned from participating in telemarketing activities or from using or obtaining prescreened consumer reports.

    Courts CFPB Enforcement Student Lending Debt Relief Consumer Finance CFPA Telemarketing Sales Rule FCRA

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  • District Court grants summary judgment against student loan debt-relief defendant

    Courts

    On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted summary judgment against an individual defendant in an action by the CFPB against a lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2020 claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products. However, the Bureau alleged that the defendants instead resold or provided the reports to numerous companies, including companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services, and violated both the TSR and CFPA by placing telemarketing sales calls and sending direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, while falsely representing that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and allow borrowers to change their servicer to the Department of Education. Settlements have already been reached with certain defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here and here).

    Responding to the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment against the individual defendant, the court, among other things, held that undisputed evidence showed that the individual defendant “obtained and later used prescreened lists from [a consumer reporting agency] without a permissible purpose” in order to send direct mail solicitations from the businesses that he controlled to consumers on the lists as opposed to firm offers of credit or insurance. The court also found that the individual defendant violated the TSR by mispresenting material aspects of the debt relief services and violated the CFPA by making false statements to induce consumers to pay advance fees for these services. Furthermore, the court rejected the individual defendant’s arguments involving boilerplate evidentiary objections and Fifth Amendment and statute of limitation claims. Because the individual defendant “was heavily involved in and controlled much of the [student loan debt relief businesses’] activities,” the court found that he acted recklessly and granted the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment, finding that injunctive relief, restitution, and a civil money penalty are appropriate remedies.

    Courts CFPB Enforcement Student Lending Debt Relief Consumer Finance CFPA Telemarketing Sales Rule FCRA

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  • DFPI takes action against student debt-relief company

    State Issues

    On August 9, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a consent order with a student loan debt relief company, resolving allegations that the company violated the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL) by collecting illegal advance fees prohibited under the federal TSR. According to DFPI, the announcement follows a “wider crackdown” initiated in February against student loan debt-relief companies in violation of the CCFPL and the Student Loan Servicing Act (covered by InfoBytes here). The company allegedly advertised promises of reducing student debt in exchange for an initial payment as high as $899 and an ongoing monthly fee of $39. DFPI alleges that over 1,000 California student loan borrowers signed up and were charged illegal up-front fees prohibited under the federal telemarketing law. The consent order requires the company to refund California student loan borrowers the approximate $870,000 it collected in fees and to pay a $500,000 penalty to DFPI. The company also agreed to cease its illegal conduct, cancel all unlawful contracts with consumers, and refund consumers within 60 days.

    State Issues DFPI State Regulators Debt Relief Student Lending TSR CCFPL Enforcement Consumer Finance

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  • District Court approves $35 million settlement in student debt-relief action

    Courts

    On July 14, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against the named defendant in a 2019 action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney, which had alleged a student loan debt relief operation deceived thousands of student-loan borrowers and charged more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint asserted that the defendants violated the CFPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws. A second amended complaint also included claims for avoidance of fraudulent transfers under the FDCPA and California’s Uniform Voidable Transactions Act.

    In 2019, the named defendant filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 relief, which was later converted to a Chapter 7 case. As the defendant is a Chapter 7 debtor and no longer conducting business, the Bureau did not seek its standard compliance and reporting requirements. Instead, the finalized settlement prohibits the defendant from resuming operations, disclosing or using customer information obtained during the course of offering or providing debt relief services, or attempting “to collect, sell, assign, or otherwise transfer any right to collect payment” from any consumers who purchased or agreed to purchase debt relief services. The defendant is also required to pay more than $35 million in redress to affected consumers, a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau, and $5,000 in civil money penalties to each of the three states.

    The court previously entered final judgments against several of the defendants, as well as a default judgment and order against two other defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here, here, and here).

    Courts CFPB Enforcement State Attorney General State Issues CFPA UDAAP Telemarketing Sales Rule FDCPA Student Lending Debt Relief Consumer Finance Settlement

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  • FTC settles with payment processors in student loan debt relief scam

    Federal Issues

    On July 12, the FTC announced a settlement with two Florida-based payment processing companies and their CEO (collectively, “defendants”) accused of participating in a student loan debt relief scam. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2018, the FTC alleged the student loan debt relief operation violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by, among other things, falsely claiming borrowers had pre-qualified for federal loan assistance programs that would reduce their monthly debt payments or result in total loan forgiveness and accepting monthly payments that were not applied towards student loans. A settlement was reached last December (covered by InfoBytes here). According to the FTC’s most recent complaint, the defendants allegedly “applied for and obtained merchant accounts for the [scam] by knowingly and repeatedly providing false information to payment processors about the [operation’s] three companies.” The defendants’ payment processing applications, the FTC contended, concealed the fraudulent activity, denied that the operation was offering consumers prohibited debt relief services, and repeatedly ignored warnings and direct evidence that the operation was defrauding consumers.

    Under the terms of the settlement order, the defendants are permanently banned from payment processing or acting as an independent sales organization or sales agency. The defendants are also prohibited from assisting and facilitating any unfair and deceptive trade practice, including to obtain payment processing services. In addition, the order imposes a $28.6 million judgment against the defendants, which is partially suspended following the payment of $20,493, due to the defendants’ inability to pay the full amount.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Payment Processors Student Lending Debt Relief Consumer Finance UDAP FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • District Court approves $6.02 million settlement in student debt-relief action

    Courts

    On July 1, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against two defendants in a 2019 action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney, which alleged a student loan debt relief operation deceived thousands of student-loan borrowers and charged more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint alleged that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the complaint asserted the defendants engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments.

    The finalized settlement issued against the two relief defendants, who neither admit nor deny the allegations except as specifically stated, requires the payment of $3.98 million by one defendant and $2.04 million by the other. However, based on the defendant’s inability to pay, full payment of the $2.04 million will be suspended. The finalized settlement also ordered the paying relief defendant to disgorge any funds held in accounts in excess of the $3.98 million, “including any income such as interest, dividends, and capital gains, as of the date the funds are transferred.” Moreover, both relief defendants are required to grant all rights and claims of identified assets to the Bureau, as well as any assets “currently in the possession, custody, or control of the Receiver.”

    The court previously entered final judgments against several of the defendants, as well as a default judgment and order against two other defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here). Orders have yet to be entered against the remaining defendants.

    Courts CFPB Enforcement State Attorney General State Issues CFPA Telemarketing Sales Rule Student Lending Debt Relief Consumer Finance Settlement

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  • Department of Education discharges roughly $500 million in student loan debt

    Federal Issues

    On June 16, the Department of Education announced the approval of 18,000 borrower defense to repayment claims for individuals who attended a now-defunct for-profit educational institution, providing borrowers with 100 percent loan discharges and providing approximately $500 million in relief. The educational institution has been subject to several investigations and settlements related to its private student loan origination practices, including allegations brought by the CFPB claiming the educational institution forced borrowers into “high-interest, high-fee” private student loans knowing that borrowers could not afford them. (See InfoBytes coverage on matters related to the educational institution here and here.) According to the Department’s announcement, the approvals cover two categories of borrower claims related to employment prospects and the ability to transfer credits, and mark “the first approval of a new category of borrower defense claims by the Department since January 2017.” Among other things, the Department found that borrowers’ “job prospects were not improved by attending” the educational institution and that credits from the educational institution rarely transferred.

    Federal Issues Department of Education Student Lending Consumer Finance Debt Relief

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